After a day of almost uninterrupted good news for Libyan rebels in Tripoli, CNN now reports that some have begun to pull back. Moammar Qaddafi’s troops have apparently started a counteroffensive, but Qaddafi himself is nowhere to be found:
The 42-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi appeared on the verge of collapse Monday, with rebel supporters making it to the same Tripoli square where regime loyalists had congregated for month.
But in a possible indication that the fight is not over, celebrations in Tripoli’s Green Square gave way to tension Monday morning after rebels told CNN that they’d heard Gadhafi army forces were heading their way. CNN could not confirm any movement of Gadhafi forces.
Given all of the earlier reports of encirclement of Tripoli, a new offensive from Qaddafi would have to be a last-gasp effort to break through and retreat out of the capital. The regime doesn’t appear to have the support of Tripoli’s residents, at least not from coverage of the areas that rebels now control. If Qaddafi stands and fights for very long under these conditions, he’ll get annihilated. Assuming he’s even still in Tripoli, Qaddafi needs to find a way out of the capital and try to link to other regime troops to continue his war.
If Qaddafi thought exile might be another option, world leaders overnight have mostly closed off that choice. European leaders have demanded that Qaddafi turn himself in to The Hague:
World leaders said Monday the end is near for the regime of Moammar Gadhafi and called on the Libyan leader to relinquish power, as hundreds of Libyans living abroad celebrated in the streets after rebels took control of most of the Libyan capital.
With events unfolding quickly and clashes reported Monday near Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli, leaders across European capitals urged Gadhafi to avoid a bloodbath of his own people and turn himself in to the International Criminal Court.
Yes, I’m sure that Qaddafi will be pitching a tent at the ICC any day now. The likelihood of that is about the same as it was for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq when George Bush gave him 48 hours to flee. Qaddafi wouldn’t have turned to Europe to arrange asylum anyway, but reaction from Russia and South Africa suggest that Qaddafi’s options for flight have begun to narrow:
South Africa — which has criticized the NATO bombing and led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Gadhafi — insisted it had sent no planes to Libya to evacuate Gadhafi. It said it had received no request from him for asylum, and was involved in no efforts to extricate him.
“I’m quite amazed that there’s even an insinuation that we are facilitating evacuation of anyone,” said Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She said that “for sure, he will not ask to come here” and noted that South Africa is an International Criminal Court member — in an apparent implication that South Africa would have to arrest Gadhafi if he arrived there. …
In Russia, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, told the Interfax news agency that “the situation for Gaddafi has passed the point of no return.”
So where would Qaddafi go? Qaddafi’s best bet for asylum, Hugo Chavez, is seriously ill, and Qaddafi would have to find a way to get to Venezuela first. The other Arab nations won’t want him; he wasn’t exactly popular among the Arab League when he had total power in Libya, and his presence would ignite protests that the other dictators don’t need. He’s probably going to try to cross a border anonymously — or as anonymously as Qaddafi can make himself — and hide somewhere in north Africa until he can find a flight or ship to South America. That is, he’ll do that unless the rebels catch him first.